Self-Handicapping: What Is It, Examples, Effects, How To Overcome, And More

Last Update on February 26, 2024 : Published on February 27, 2024

In simple words, self-handicapping means finding an external source to blame for their failures. Self-handicapping prevents people from negative feelings and in return hides personal growth even more.

We all have self-sabotaged at some point in life… but ever wondered what are the consequences or what happens when we sabotage excessively? Self-handicap is one of the consequences of our constant engagement in negative behaviors that not only impact our mental health but also our chances of success.

Ever wondered why we engage in behaviors that stop us from reaching our goals? Not only this, but self-handicapping also stops us from acknowledging our issues, emotions, or failures.

In this blog, we will read everything we need to know about self-handicapping. So, let’s get started!

What is Self-Handicapping in Psychology?

Self-handicapping is the extreme engagement in negative behaviors and finding an external source to blame for possible consequences or failures. Such behavior prevents people from feeling inadequate and hinders personal growth. We all have been in a situation wherein we blamed an outside source to protect us from consequential thoughts.

This negative behavior towards personal growth protects our self-esteem from breaking but sadly there are consequences for every negative behavior.

What is Self-Handicapping in Psychology

Self-handicapping can also be referred to as self-sabotaging action; it basically stops us from acknowledging our behavior or taking responsibility for our actions. Self-handicapping stops the natural process of discomfort and resilience. Instead, it changes our perspective towards failures and helps us find an external source to put the blame on. Research shows that people start self-handicapping when they feel unsure or start doubting their abilities.

Additionally, fear of success, imposter syndrome, social anxiety, or fear of experiencing backlash also contribute to the development of self-handicapping. It is important to overcome self-handicapping as such a negative behavior may lead to engagement in more dangerous behaviors.

Quick Fact-Check: The concept of self-handicapping was first introduced in 1978 by Edward Jones and Stephen Berglas in a study

Here are a few real-life examples of self-handicapping:

  • People who procrastinate a lot are prone to developing self-handicapping.
  • In extreme cases of self-handicapping, people might engage in dangerous behaviors such as substance abuse, excessive alcoholism, and others. In such cases, generally, people start blaming their intoxications for their failures.
  • Too many responsibilities or over-commitment might also lead to self-handicapping at some point.
  • Self-sabotaging actions or self-handicapping may also have a direct impact on our relationships as it can be a way of preventing ourselves from the fear of rejection or abandonment.
  • Self-handicapping might also lead to making excuses for failing again and again or for not being able to connect with the goals you might have set for yourself.

Causes of Self-Handicapping

Studies show that self-handicapping is generally caused by fear of failure, feelings of uncertainty or high expectations of success. Some psychologists refer to self-handicapping as a self-protective mechanism that might protect one’s self-esteem temporarily.

People who self-handicap generally blame failure or any other external source to protect their self-esteem. Research also shows that self-handicappers are disliked socially and rated more negatively as compared to people who don’t self-handicap.

Temporary Benefits of Self-Handicapping

  • Defends from the implications of failure
  • Develops interpersonal satisfaction
  • Develops self-destructive patterns
  • More engagement or enjoyment in defending activities
  • Decreases worries
  • Increases intrinsic motivation

Side Effects of Self-Handicapping

Psychologists believe that someone self-sabotages when they want to protect their self-esteem or ego. While this behavior looks like a temporary solution for problems, it can have negative effects on the overall mental health and goals. Most people adapt to self-handicapping automatically and unconsciously.

Unfortunately, self-handicapping can have negative effects such as:

  • Self-handicapping may put barriers to your success.
  • Self-handicapping may lower your chances of reaching your goals and directly impact your self-esteem.
  • Self-handicapping may lower motivation levels.
  • Self-handicapping may increase the chances of developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or stress.
  • Self-handicapping may develop a fear of failure.
  • Self-handicapping may make people weak to fight or overcome the challenges.
  • Self-handicapping may result in less productivity.
  • Self-handicapping may result in lower academic or career achievements.
  • Self-handicapping may increase the risk of alcohol or substance abuse.
  • Self-handicapping may impact social relationships directly.
  • Self-handicapping may develop a negative outlook or perspective towards life.

What Does The Research Say About Self-Handicapping?

The concept of self-handicapping was first introduced in 1978 by Edward Jones and Stephen Berglas in a study revolving around students. Some random students were asked to complete anagrams, during the assessment, some students were able to solve anagrams while some were not.

During the study, the researchers concluded that only 70% of students who submitted the incomplete anagram opted for consuming performance-inhibiting drugs. Results show that people who are confident of their abilities believe in giving something to improve their overall performance. Meanwhile, people who are not confident of their abilities are likely to consume drug which will provide them an external source to put a blame for failures.

One study shows that excessive self-doubt can trigger a need to self-protect and this behavior can lead to self-handicapping behaviors. There are different studies available on the internet that can help in decreasing the side effects or consequences of self-handicapping effectively and can lead to academic or career success.

Strategies to Overcome Self-Handicapping

Self-handicapping may protect your self-esteem or ego temporarily but it comes with negative consequences of your negative actions or behaviors towards life as well. Do you feel you’re self-handicapping your chances of success or mental health? Well, not anymore, follow the below-listed strategies and overcome self-handicapping.

  • Acknowledge your issues

The first step towards overcoming self-handicapping is to acknowledge that you’re engaged in self-handicapping and now it’s high time to completely remove self-handicapping. In order to work towards your goals, take out a pen and diary and list things that look problematic to you. In this way, you will be creating a self-list to improve and work towards your career or achieve high academic performance.

  • Develop a growth mindset mindfully

Once, you’re done with a list of things that need to be fixed, you need to develop a growth mindset. A Growth mindset will improve your abilities, recognize your strengths, and increase resilience to reduce self-handicapping-related behaviors completely. It also involves shifting your focus towards a positive mindset so that you can learn more and act accordingly.

  • Work on building self-efficacy

Self-efficacy helps in enhancing your ability to perform, maintaining motivation, and increases your productivity levels directly. In order to work on self-efficacy, you must start analyzing your problems, collect useful information, seek the help of your mentors, and brainstorm solutions for every problem. Self-efficacy is one of the best tools to overcome self-handicapping or self-sabotaging behaviors.

  • Maintain your self-esteem

Study shows that people who self-handicap a lot have higher self-esteem therefore, during the self-improvement process, learn to maintain your self-esteem and protect your ego. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion to prepare yourself for overcoming obstacles and positively reach your goals. Start saying positive things about yourself, convert your mistakes into lessons, and approach your goals mindfully.

  • Work on your goals, not excuses

One of the common symptoms of self-handicapping is making excuses constantly or finding an external source for putting blame, the idea is to avoid blaming or making excuses and actually working on self-improvement. In this way, you will be protecting your mental health and working towards your goals efficiently. Keep watching your symptoms that might draw down your efforts.

To learn how to avoid procrastination, refer below:

Clearly, you can control what’s controllable, take lessons from your mistakes, stop dwelling on the past, and avoid negative thinking so that you can actually work on your goals productively. Negative thinking can be one of the major barriers during progress, therefore, practice loving kindness meditation or other types of technique to avoid negative thinking.

  • Take responsibility for your actions

Once you acknowledge your issues, you will be able to gather the strength for achieving your goals. In order to keep yourself motivated and productive throughout the journey, start taking responsibility and work towards self-improvement. Herein, you can journal your thoughts, meditate, or learn techniques to manage your stress or anxiety.

  • Take the help of positive affirmations

In order to brainstorm ideas, try taking the help of positive affirmations, they will also help you to move in the right direction. Additionally, positive affirmations help in maintaining self-esteem, confidence, sense of self, and sense of belonging throughout the journey. Positive affirmations can also be used appropriately for fighting with fear of failure, rejection, or abandonment.

  • Seek the help of your mentor or a professional

Whenever you feel stuck or negative, avoid looking back, and fearlessly take the help of your mentors. Your mentors know your strengths in and out, therefore, seek their guidance, don’t stop, keep taking small steps, and work towards self-improvement. Herein, you can also take the help of mental health professionals for counseling, self-improvement, mental health issues, and more.

cope with Self-Handicapping

I hope this blog helps you understand what is self-handicapping in psychology, its examples, its effects, and how to overcome it. Comment down and share your views on the same. For more such content, connect with us through all social media platforms.

Thanks for reading!

About The Author

Aayushi Kapoor
Aayushi Kapoor

Aayushi is a Content Creator at Calm Sage. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Technology and a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Her constant interest in the improvement of mental health, nutrition, and overall wellness embarked upon her career as a “full-time educational writer.” She likes to make an asynchronous connection with her readers. Her mantra for living life is "What you seek is seeking you".

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

As Seen On